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This article is a brief description of my three days experience at the Kalachakra for World Peace.
I’m reporting from the Kalachakra in D.C. I went to the Verizon Center on Wednesday for His Holiness’ birthday celebrations. Then Thursday was all prayers, preparing space for the Kalachakra initiation, mandala and then in the afternoon Namgyal monks did a Kalachakra dance. Similar to Cham, but I suspect a little different. I don’t know what they were doing, or why. (sorry for my ignorance) 🙂 Today was the first day of teachings.
Sights – very colorful, beautiful, high quality. The camera people seem to know what they are doing. Sounds – see below, the chanting and the instruments are clear… voices? Smells – all positive – incense, flowers, french fries. Tastes – it might be possible to smuggle in a little food, as these guys are charging more than airports or movie theaters…
Wednesday: I love it when Tibetans have a reason to dress up. Even the men look good – traditional chubas over Tibetan tunics and pants, curious traditional shoes; of course though, the women look sublime. Many colorful chubas, scarves, frocks – even the Westerners were doing pretty good. For the Dalai Lama’s birthday, Arun Gandhi, the Mahatma’s grandson and Martin Luther King III (MLK Jr’s son) sat to either side of His Holiness. They gave inspiring speeches about conflict resolution, compassion and how we aught to be having a peace race – as in the opposite of an arms race. Tibetan children played a traditional song for His Holiness, with numerous instruments and singing.
There may have been five to eight thousand people the first day. Everything seems fine, except of course the four dollar bottle of water and the ten dollar chicken fingers (seriously! gross!). Oh, and if you are sitting in the 400s sections, the resonance of the speakers is bizarre and you end up hearing multiple sounds simultaneously – I could understand neither the Tibetan nor the English. Luckily, you can get a headset in English – ten dollar deposit, and it makes His Holiness’ words and his translator’s words crystal clear.
Thursday: All prayers, along with a Kalachakra monastic dance. The dancers were in very festive, colorful golden outfits, with Lanza characters on their crowns. Lanza is the very fancy version of Tibetan which you often see at the tops of the beginning of sadhanas and pechas. The Dalai Lama sat in the mandala platform on several occasions as the monks from Namgyal (His Holiness’ personal monastery in Dehra Duhn) surrounded him with ceremonial phurbas (ritual daggers probably meant to protect the space – don’t worry, they are dull). There is a camera in the top of the mandala house, so the viewers got a curious perspective looking down on His Holiness as he recited prayers and meditated on the platform.
Less people on this day, maybe three thousand tops? The Namgyal monks chant with deep, sonorous voices – almost primal in way. Very soothing to sit back and listen as they did several sets of prayers, some with His Holiness, some on their own. Maybe 30 monks total, but they could be heard all the way across the arena.
Friday I went up to Frederick to the TMC to deliver something to a friend. Then I lucked out and got to have lunch with Khenpo Tsultrim and that friend. Then back to Alexandria before the torrential rain and T-storms swept through.
Saturday – I did not attend the public talk as I needed a little rest. I went to the arena instead and got to chat a bit with friends and watch the monks slowly progress on the sand mandala. Nobody in the arena in the morning, which makes sense considering His Holiness was giving a public talk on the Capitol steps… In the afternoon, people slowly started seeping in, but once His Holiness (actually there were two Holinesses it turns out, see below) began to teach, nearly every lower seat was full. There may have been ten to fifteen thousand today.
The Dalai Lama taught seemingly extemporaneously (no text in front of him at all). He started out with the basics, talking about sticking with your own religion – don’t get confused by switching religions often. Religions are not like fashion or hair styles. Choose one, investigate carefully and stick with it. He eventually got into the first text which was the Gom Pai Rim Pa or Stages of Meditation by Kamalashila. He added humor, wit and some direct words of advice. It seemed to me that he was targeting his talk to a public, non-buddhist audience, which was good. But I think I would have preferred more of a Buddhist talk. He knows best though – I am just an ordinary, afflicted being! 🙂 Oh – The Karmapa, Ogyen Drodul Trinley Dorje, sat in the front row on stage. What a tremedous blessing! Not one His Holiness, but two!
The Dalai Lama will teach another two days on preliminary topics – such as “infinite altruism” and the understanding of emptiness (shunyata). Then on Tuesday there is a special Kalachakra dance. Then Wed – Fri will be the Kalachakra empowerment, with long life prayers and empowerment on Saturday.
I have been riding in the Washington Metro with other Buddhists, some of them monks, which seem to draw curious looks. But it is nice to have good company. Hence the title.